11 Nov The Revd Philippa Boardman MBE St Mary Magdalene Wandsworth Common
A few years ago there was a TV programme with a most intriguing title.
It was called ‘The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England’
Who could this be?
Henry 8th? Certainly pretty dangerous if you were married to him!
Thomas Cromwell – made famous to many of us by Hilary Mantel and her wonderful novels?
In fact it was neither of these.
The Most Dangerous Man in Tudor England according to Melvin Bragg the programme presenter, was a man named William Tyndale.
At a time when the Bible was only available in Latin and Greek, and only clergy and the upper classes could read it, William Tyndale had a vision for sharing information which made him the Bill Gates (Microsoft) or Sergey Brin (Google) of his day.
Tyndale’s passion, his ‘mission statement’ was to make the Bible available, in English and to every person in the land.
During one of his (many) arguments with Bishops he famously said: if God spare my lyfe ere many yeares, I will cause a boye that driveth the plough, to knowe more of the scripture then thou doest.”
For some reason William Tyndale has never received the recognition in the church (or in our nation) that I believe he richly deserves.
Perhaps he needs Hilary Mantel to write some novels about him?
But he is one of my great Christian heroes and on this Bible Sunday I’d like to share a little of his story..
As you can imagine, Bishops & church authorities were deeply threatened by Tyndale’s vision that everyone should have access to the Bible to study and interpret it for themselves.
If everyone had access to the Bible how could clergy ‘control’ the people and how they lived out their faith?!
Bishops turned their backs on him when he looked for support. Some were actively hostile. Tyndale had to flee to the Netherlands to get his Bibles in English printed.
And then it was businesspeople, the merchants, who smuggled the Bibles back in any way they could – even in bales of wool, or in the deep sleeves of their winter coats.
The Bishop of London was furious.
He described Tyndale’s Bibles in English as ‘pernicious, pestilent, heretical and contaminating’ and tracked down all the 1st editions of Tyndale’s New Testament in English. On October 27th 1526 the Bishop burned them all on a bonfire outside St Pauls Cathedral. Within 10 years, Tyndale himself would be burned at the stake, simply for his vision of making the Bible available to every ‘ploughboy’.
I recommend the documentary to you
Today it’s so so different.
The Bible is freely available in English.
Often the book for which Tyndale died, will sit on one of our bookshelves gathering dust. How can we catch some of Tyndale’s passion?
In our first reading from Colossians, we heard this vivid phrase:
Let the word of Christ, dwell in you richly.
I think there are some key pointers here
Firstly, that the Bible is not some academic writing to trade arguments with (though sadly that’s what sometimes happens) but the Bible is a book that changes us within.
It’s not so much informative as formative
The Bible is there to help us tune ourselves and our lives to God’s loving ways. It’s not about cramming our heads so that we ‘know’ the right answers.
It is heart-knowledge, wisdom, questioning things, working things out, often by difficulty.
As Paul says, it’s a word that dwells in us, abides in us, makes a home in us.
So how to begin – Luke’s gospel is one place to start. You can read it in short bursts or in about 2 hours.
Or how about reading this passage in Colossians chapter 3 every day this week and allowing it to sink in?
Or if you don’t like reading, if you go onto ‘Google’ and search for David Suchet/St Mark’s Gospel, you can find actor David Suchet aka Hercules Poirot, reading the whole of the Gospel of Mark. Listen a bit at a time or in 2 hours you can get the whole story. – opening your heart to how it might encourage you, guide and shape you.
Not informative but formative.
Let the word of Christ dwell in your hearts. Colossians 3:16
And secondly, to read the Bible in the context of the love of God. I haven’t been able to find the author of the following quote, but I believe it was a theologian of the early church who said that as Christians, we ought not to hammer to death a word or phrase but to treat the whole as a letter from a friend and so ‘read the love between the lines’.
This is also the advice of St Augustine, the north African bishop of Hippo.
‘Whoever then thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures.. but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this two-fold love of God and love of our neighbour, does not yet understand them as they ought’
But on this Bible Sunday, William Tyndale must have the last word.
He wrote that the Gospels ‘signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh our hearts glad and maketh us sing, dance and leap for joy.
Be bold, little flock, be bold.
Revd Philippa Boardman